Arlene remembered her widowed Grandma, an odd old bird, being very peculiar when it came to the cellar of her house. The door, way at the end of the hallway, remained always padlocked. And once, when Arlene was little, Grandma stopped and gave the door a kiss.
What secret was in Grandma’s cellar? Not to worry, Arlene assured herself. Since she was now the owner of that old country house, thanks to Grandma’s will, she’d learn just what was what – cellar and all.
It was twilight when Arlene and her husband, Mark, arrived at Grandma’s. Mark stayed behind in the van, outfitted with nibbling snacks, a sleeping bag and a butane lantern. Arlene took a butane lantern, a sleeping bag, and a crowbar and stood at the faded white picket fence that surrounded Grandma’s house. A rusty-hinged gate already opened, swung squeakily in the wind. Soon as she entered inside the gate, it slammed shut behind her and Arlene jumped. A gust of wind, is all . . . just a gust of wind.
The steps and porch seemed in direr need of repair, feeling like they’d give way at any moment, as Arlene walked on them to the front door made of heavy oak. An oval window in the door, though it was cloudy, gave a glimpse of the sheet-shrouded furniture inside. When Arlene slid the key into the lock, thunder rumbled in the distance. Oh-my, maybe this isn’t a good day to be doing this. Unfortunately that ship had long since sailed away, something that Grandma’s attorney had seen to.
The attorney arrived late the night before, right after a fight that she and Mark had been in. It was a quarrel that had been over the usual – money. The weasel-faced, stubby lawyer was most direct, “You still must comply with the stipulation in your grandmother’s will,” he said. “You must sleep a night in the house, alone, which must happen no later than thirty days after the reading of the will; otherwise, you forfeit your inheritance. The house will be sold and the proceeds will go to charity. I’m here to remind you that you have only one night left to comply.”
Even though the key slid smoothly into the lock, it wouldn’t turn. Arlene frantically jiggled the key a while but without success. Finally, Arlene broke down and called Mark on her cell.
“It’s okay, honey,” were Mark’s gentle soothing words through the tiny speaker in the cell. “Deep breath in, and blow it slowly out through your nose” – which Arlene did. And as the breath was leaving her nostrils, in the oval window appeared a face!
Immediately from inside the door unlocked and was opened. “I’m so sorry,” said the attorney, “I didn’t mean to frighten you. Please forgive me.”
If Arlene had been a feline, she’d have needed pulling off the porch ceiling. “What’re you doing here?”
Evidently, according to the attorney, Grandma wasn’t a trusting soul. Per her instructions in the will, he was to make sure that Arlene’s compliance was fully carried out. “Consequently, I have to lock the door behind you. I’ll return first thing tomorrow morning to let you out.”
Before Arlene entered the house and has the door locked behind her, she thought about Grandma. Was there anything strange about Grandma she could remember that would preclude her staying in the house, alone? She could come up with nothing that was substantially loony about Grandma, only the padlocked cellar she’d always been prevented from ever entering. How strange is that, really? But still there is this matter of staying a night alone in the house. What’s that all about?
Before she knew it “click” went the bolt in the doorlock from the outside. Looking around the room by light from a butane lantern, Arlene realized she was inside Grandma’s house, alone – or so she hoped. Her cell rang. “Yes Mark,” she answered, “I’m inside. What? Now? Can’t it wait until morning? Okay, okay, I’ll look now.”
While Arlene worked the padlock with the crowbar, she grumbled to herself, “He just won’t be happy until he sees we won’t be getting anything more out of this old broken down place than what we can sell it for.” The lock finally broke. She took a deep breath in and slowly released the air through her nose. “Okay, now the fun part.”
The light from the butane lantern was strong and lit all the stairs down to the concrete cellar floor. Unilluminated was the pungent smell of mildew, the dampness and the cold. Carefully now . . . Each step, all wooden with horribly rusty nails, eerily screeched underneath her weight. Halfway down she stopped. She moved the lantern light around, trying to light up the darkness as much as she could. She saw an antiquated coal-burning furnace, stacks and stacks of banker file boxes, pieces of small furniture, and half in the shadows on the floor . . .
“I don’t know Mark, it’s a chest of some kind,” Arlene said excitedly into her cell. She knelt before the chest and undid two brass latches. “No. It’s not locked.” Inside were several leather-bound photo albums and a singular oval wooden framed photo. “It’s of my grandpa, I think,” Arlene relayed to Mark. “No, I don’t see money anywhere or . . . ” – Suddenly from the shadows, what appeared to be a mannequin, fell forward onto Arlene. A moment later, though, a scream came from Arlene that produced a deafness in Mark’s phone ear.
The attorney was called out. He found Arlene in the front room of the house, seated in a corner holding her knees. While she rocked back and forth she muttered, over and over, “The secret in Grandma’s cellar is Grandpa!”
A note found from Grandma to Arlene, pinned to the shirt of a very well stuffed Grandpa, offered this explanation – “Please forgive my eccentricity. I couldn’t bear to bury him in my life, but now in my death, bury him by my side.”